CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 27, September 2011


Inner Asian Anxieties at the dawn of the Chinese Republic | China Heritage Quarterly

Inner Asian Anxieties at the dawn of the Chinese Republic:
Mongolia and the Short Life of North-West Magazine

Justin Tighe
Melbourne University

Fig.1 Cover of North-West Magazine

Among the more ephemeral periodicals that appeared in the early years of the Republic of China, was North-West Magazine (Xibei zazhi 西北雜誌). It ran for only five issues, from November 1912 to March 1913.[Fig.1] The magazine's title derived from a Chinese designation common at the time that denoted the broad swath of the Inner Asian frontier of the former Qing dynasty, stretching from Tibet in the west through Xinjiang to Mongolia in the north (and, indeed, sometimes including even Manchuria in the northeast). This area was designated as xibei or 'the North-West', that is, lands to the north and west of the Central Plains of the empire. Although only five issues were produced, the journal provides insights into various facets of early Republican-era thinking, modes of ethnic representation and political actions related to the Inner Asian frontier and frontier peoples in the aftermath of the Xinhai Revolution, in particular in response to the declaration of independence by the Khalkha or Outer Mongol princes in December 1911.[Fig.2]

Published in Beijing, North-West Magazine was edited and distributed by the North-West Promotion Association (Xibei xiejinhui 西北協進會). This organisation was linked to various, mainly Beijing-based, frontier enthusiasts and former Qing frontier officials, some of whom now held positions in the fledgling institutions of the new Republican government under President Yuan Shikai 袁世凯. The most senior of these was Yao Xiguang (姚錫光, 1856-?), head of the Association. Yao had a background in both education and military reform and during the last decade of the Qing he emerged as a frontier policy reformer.[1] In June 1912, he became Yuan Shikai's first appointment as acting director of the Bureau of Mongolian-Tibetan Affairs (Meng Zang shiwuju 蒙藏事務局), the transitional institution that assumed at least some of the functions of the former Qing body that had oversight of the administration of the Inner Asian frontier, the Ministry of Dependencies (Lifanbu 理藩部). In a similar mould was Chen Yi (陳毅, 1873-?) who contributed a 'Statistical and Schematic Explanation of Dependent Administration' (Fanzheng tongji biaoshi jieshuo 藩政統計表式解說) to , North-West Magazine, serialised through all five issues of the journal. Like Yao, Chen became a specialist in frontier territorial issues in the last decade of the Qing, and joined Yuan Shikai's new Bureau in mid-1912. In 1914, he would go on to become a participant in negotiations over Outer Mongolia's status that involved Russia, China and Mongolia. In 1917, Chen and was appointed the Northern Warlord government's High Commissioner to Urga.[2]

Fig.2 Image of Genghis Khan from a temple in Outer Mongolian. This appears alongside photographs of Yuan Shikai and Sun Yatsen in the first issue of North-West Magazine

The first issue of North-West Magazine also featured congratulatory texts (zhu ci 祝辭) from two Mongol princes. The first of these was from the Outer Mongol prince Nayantu (1867-1938), a former Qing loyalist who in the last days of the dynasty had urged the Court to resist pressure for the emperor to abdicate.[3] Remaining in Beijing he became Yuan Shikai's appointee to the former empire's top administrative position in Outer Mongolia, the Uliasutai Generalship (for understandable reasons he never assumed this role), as well as becoming a member of the provisional National Council which convened in Beijing from late April 1912. The other message of congratulation was the Inner Mongol prince Gungsangnorbu, the most renowned Mongol princely reformer in the late Qing and, now in 1912, the key link between President Yuan and the Inner Mongol princes who were teetering on the brink of severing their ties with the Chinese Republic. In September 1912, Gungsangnorbu took over from Yao Xiguang as director of the Bureau of Mongol-Tibetan Affairs and continued as its head following May 1914, when it became a separate government department.[4][Fig.3]

North-West Magazine declared its purpose to be 'build and strengthen public opinion and unite the nation in order to consolidate the position of Mongols, Tibetans and Muslims so as to create a strong foundation for the Republic' (guchui jianquan yulun mouhe quanguo guoli gonggu Meng Zang Hui diwei yi zhi minguo jichu 鼓吹健全與論謀合全國國力鞏固蒙藏回地位以植民國基礎).[5] Each issue carried regular sections which included government correspondence and orders, scholarly research, surveys, opinion pieces, selections and translations from the press, as well as a 'literary corner' (wenyuan 文苑). In an atmosphere of heightened anxiety over territorial loss and the alienation of the frontier the magazine both recorded the deliberations and the actions of the new Republic which were aimed at the frontier regions and sought to educate readers and act as a forum for advocacy that favoured developing the frontiers and regaining lost territory.

Fig.3 Prince Nayantu

The official correspondence and presidential orders sections in North-West Magazine provide a detailed record of Beijing-based Republican actions regarding the frontier during the crucial period of March 1912 to January 1913. Beside the decrees of President Yuan, this material includes the deliberations of the Provisional National Council as well as communications between various departments in Yuan Shikai's administration related to frontier issues. In the early months of the Republic, there was a rash of appointments to frontier positions—some of them, for obvious political reasons, unrealisable. Thereafter, an important concern became how to stabilise what from the perspective of Beijing was the most realistically controllable region of the frontier: Inner Mongolia. This entailed the careful management of the related to gaining 'assent to the Republic' (zan gonghe 贊共和) from key figures in the Inner Mongol princely and religious elites. The process continued to early 1913 and the correspondence and orders sections of the journal reveal that it involved a combination of rewards and threats. Those Mongol princes who assented to the Republic gained a grade in the system of aristocratic titles that Yuan Shikai retained from the Qing. Recalcitrants faced demotion and military action.

Within this important record of government deliberations and action one can also trace how issues related to Chinese Republican sovereignty as it applied to the frontier were fleshed out, both symbolically and substantively. The new order that aimed to realise a 'Republic of five lineages' (wuzu gonghe 五族共和) which emphasized ethnic equality had to be carefully distinguished from Qing policies related to the 'treatment of dependencies' (fanshu daiyu 藩屬待遇) which were now cast as having been autocratic and oppressive. This was a delicate task as the importance placed upon the gaining the assent of Mongol princes to the Republic indicates. The princes were the only substantial public figures who could legitimate Republican claims to the Mongol territories; any wholesale attack on the aristocratic privileges they enjoyed under the Qing would have frustrated the cause of the Republic. The Provisions for the Treatment of Mongols, which Yuan proclaimed in August 1912, guaranteed Mongol aristocratic privileges and titles as well as, after some debate, the Qing system of nianban 年班 or regulated trips made by princes to the capital for audiences with the emperor. This system was retained in a modified format. Thereafter, when the princes were presented to the President, instead of the three prostrations and nine head knocks (san gui jiu kou 三跪九叩) they merely had to bow at the waist twice 'in accord with general Republican ritual'.[6] By December 1912, North-West Magazine recorded newly proclaimed regulations in preparation for Republic-wide parliamentary elections in which Mongol princes were asked to compile lists of voters and supervise elections within their districts.[7]

Fig.4 Advertisement for a 'Large Territorial Map of Mongolia', from North-West Magazine

If notions of equality and pluralism seemed to inform such attempts to appeal to Inner Mongol elites other materials inNorth-West Magazine reveal a more desperate and harsher approach to the incorporation of frontier peoples.[Fig.4] At the heart of this was an anxiety about what was deemed to be the 'Mongol-Tibet problem'—the loss or alienation of crucial former territories of the empire in the new republic. Opinion pieces such as 'On the Mongol Problem', 'On the British Treatment of Tibet', 'Research on a Military Campaign Against Urga' vividly convey this sense of urgency and crisis.[8] More generally, two major themes inform many of the opinion pieces and other essays in the magazine. In the first place was the characterisation of frontier peoples, the Mongols and Tibetans in particular, as being backward and in decline. This was typically argued in the language of race and what was then contemporary Western anthropology. Mongols, according to one contributor were

essentially a totemistic society (tuteng shehui 圖騰社會) lacking collective will. They don't till the soil but wantonly wander in pursuit of a nomadic lifestyle, following the grass and water and dwelling at random. Laziness has become a character trait. ...Their race is declining in numbers and has become like rotten wood and dead ashes—with neither vitality nor ambition.[9]

Secondly, and what was in essence a corollary to this 'assessment', was the heightened imperative for frontier development as part of a strategy aimed at bolstering territorial security. This was hardly new. Such an approach had been argued for in the late Qing, and it would be pursued into the 1930s. The incorporation of the frontier and the assimilation of frontier peoples was seen as being the only solution to ensure territorial integrity.

Perhaps as a portent for the future, the third issue of North-West Magazine contained an apology citing printing problems as the reason for its delayed publication. The magazine lasted two more issues before vanishing. By 1921, Outer Mongolia had consolidated its independence. Anxieties over territorial losses and the imperative for development would, however, remain central themes of Republican discourse related to the Inner Asian frontier. In the mid 1930s, another wave of concern for this North-West of China would generate new writings and publications.

Other articles included in this feature:


[1] In 1906, Yao undertook surveys in eastern Inner Mongolia and submitted an influential report to the Court which contained many of the policy recommendations urged on it by frontier modernisers at the time: Chinese immigration to strengthen the frontier; replacing the Mongol princely banner administration with Chinese-style counties; and, the division of Outer and Inner Mongolia into a series of provinces 'along the lines of Xinjiang'. See Yao Xiguang, Chou Meng chu yi, Beijing: Yuanfang Chubanshe, 2008.

[2] See Chen Yi 'Fanzheng tongji biaoshi jieshuo', Xibei zazhi, nos.1-5. For biographical details of Chen, see Xu Youchen, ed., Minguo renwu da cidian, Shijiazhuang: Hebei Renmin Chubanshe, 1991, p.1004.

[3] Edward Rhoads Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China 1861-1928, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000, p.217.

[4] For a biography, see Sechin Jagchid, 'Prince Gungsangnorbu Forerunner of Inner Mongolian Modernization', Zentral-Asiatische Studien, no.12 (1978):43-57.

[5] 'Shilie', Xibei zazhi no.1.

[6] Xibei zazhi, no.1, in Wendu 文牘, p. 27.

[7] Xibei zazhi, no.3, in Faling 法令, p.6.

[8] See variously 'Lun yingren zhi duidai Xizang' and 'Zheng Ku wenti zhi yanjiu', Xibei zazhi, no.2, in Lunshuo 論說.

[9] Tang Kejie, 'Menggu kenzhi yimin lun', Xibei zazhi, no.2, in Lunshuo, p.31.